What makes Max Verstappen stand out? Is it his youthful daredevil tendencies, his car, or is it the data Red Bull collects during each race? Each Formula 1 car has 300+ sensors sending huge swaths of telemetry data every second—but this data is only as meaningful as the driver’s team makes it.
The digital operating model is the heart of F1. It’s what keeps them moving faster and smoother while continuing to engage fans worldwide.
The behind-the-scenes view offered by the Netflix hit Drive to Survive, the hype videos on Instagram, and global news coverage shows the result of millions of data points coming to life to evolve a sport, keep drivers safe, challenge engineers and engage fans. But collecting this data is only one step: How does human intuition—be it the individual driver’s or their entire team’s—make this data actionable in the blink of an eye?
During my recent visit to the Las Vegas F1 event, the interplay of technology and human adaptability was more evident than ever. The unexpected pothole issue was a stark reminder that no matter how advanced our technology or strategies, we must always be prepared to respond to the unpredictable elements of the physical world.
This was exemplified by Carlos Sainz and Ferrari's ordeal—a practice round lasting only eight minutes, a damaged car, and a consequential penalty. It highlighted the necessity of agility and quick thinking, both on and off the track. And there are clear parallels to the business world.
When a driver is out on a course mid-race, they have a split second to make a multitude of decisions. Data on the aerodynamics of their vehicles will impact their speed and handling, especially going into hairpin turns or when trying to gain a competitive advantage. For example, F1 rules stipulate that drag reduction systems (DRS) can only be deployed when the pursuing car is within one second of its competitor. Deploying DRS too soon will be a violation of the rules, and waiting an extra second too long will make the deployment less effective.
Drivers are reading information in the car, listening to information being relayed by their teams, and processing it all while driving at speeds more than 200 miles per hour. The ability to make a quick decision and keep moving forward (versus knowing when to stop in the pit) can be the difference between life and death—literally for drivers, and figuratively for business leaders. And, of equal importance, once a decision is made, there is no room to waver or pivot until the result has played out. Then this experience can be used to inform subsequent decision-making.
Making data-backed decisions is one thing, but following up on these decisions to evaluate success and try new things is another entirely. In F1, drivers and their teams are constantly practicing the concept of “test and learn,” in which a decision is made based on insights gleaned from data, and then the outcome is evaluated. Practice rounds before a race are crucial. They help drivers get familiar with the track and create a strategy to win, aiming to make the actual race go as smoothly as planned.
If it works, double down. If it doesn’t, identify why and move on to testing something else.
Executives who encourage and empower their teams to test and learn are more likely to be successful, as the ability to test and learn—with the potential for failure—is critical to unlocking the winning strategy.
There is value to knowing what isn’t effective in the long run, too.
In moments of failure, the focus should not be on who to blame. The team succeeds together and fails together. When this is an established mindset, more focus can be given to analyzing data and outcomes and preparing to try again. Being able to learn from failure, pivot, and adapt quickly is the key to being successful next time.
The Las Vegas event also showcased the impeccable organization of the teams. The spotless garages, meticulously arranged equipment, and streamlined processes are a testament to the human element in a data-driven world. It's a reminder that while technology is a powerful enabler, the core of success in any field, including F1, remains human creativity, intuition, polish, and teamwork.
In business, the discussion about how technology will impact the future of work is being had across nearly every sector. Industry leaders are discussing how to incorporate machine learning, generative AI, and other similar solutions into their long-term business strategies. Bu these conversations come with apprehension about whether or not this technology will replace human jobs. Our take—and what is exciting about how West Monroe approaches technology—is that technology will not replace work in these industries, but will instead enhance the nature of work. Similar to David Friedberg’s example of the tractor, as he discussed on the All-In Podcast: When machinery and additional tools were introduced, the farming industry bloomed beyond imagination. Technology-enabled humans are unparalleled with the progress they can achieve.
F1 is the perfect example of a future where success is rooted in data and technology – but still, at its core, based on human experience. The automations, sensors, and instant data feedback are only as impactful as the teams analyzing it. If you take the human drivers out of the F1 experience and make the sport all about the data and technology, you’re left with what for all intents and purposes is a live-action video game.
Being digital is really about being human. It involves making instinctive decisions that feel natural to us, but these are supported by data. Technology helps streamline our processes, making it easier to reach our goals. This also prepares leaders to better adapt to future changes.
Since its inception, the only thing that mattered in F1 was speed. How fast could your car go, and how competent was the driver of that car at achieving and maintaining these speeds? With the introduction of high-volume data analysis to the sport, this has unlocked near-unlimited potential for how drivers are making real-time, split-second decisions to enhance their skills and remain competitive.
Similarly, in the business world, industry leaders are determining how to take the data they have access to—which is growing in leaps and bounds—to achieve their business outcomes. There are obviously a lot of differences between driving a car at 200 miles per hour and guiding your company’s product and development processes. But at the end of the day, F1 drivers and C-Suite executives will all achieve success when they work with their teams to optimize the data they collect and truly harness the power of being digital and being human.